With a globally significant USA election only days away, many are wondering if our voting systems will accurately count voter intentions. On the heels of widely reported problems in the 2000 and 2004 elections, Americans have reason to be concerned. According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, forty-two percent of those surveyed said they were not confident that their votes could be "accurately cast and counted," up 15 percentage points from a similar poll conducted four years ago.
Early voting in some jurisdictions has already revealed problems, including annoyances like long lines, and deeper concerns like “computer glitches.” In Ergoweb’s home town of Park City, Utah, resident Mary Cook shared her early voting story. "I walked to the table and gave them my name, they put the card into the machine and it came up and said I had already voted. I had not already voted, that’s what I was there for was to vote." Other would-be voters report experiencing the same problem, which remains under investigation.
In a detailed article on voting system usability The Ergonomics Report™ writer Jennifer Anderson states: The record-setting turnout promises to exacerbate still-present turmoil in the nation’s voting system—a mish-mash of procedures, rules and regulations put together by individual states and counties. A human factors researcher who has been exploring kinks in electoral systems finds little to suggest the country’s election officials have learned from the "hanging chad" debacle in Broward County, Florida, in 2000. Those problems shook a nation’s faith in one of its most prized democratic institutions – elections.
Voting system usability — from the politicians, civil servants and volunteers who design and operate the polls, to the voters casting ballots — is of critical importance in the design and execution of an accurate, effective, and legitimate voting system. Ergonomists and human factors professionals are stepping forward to help.
The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) has just released an interview article highlighting problems and ways in which human factors/ergonomics (HF/E) research and methods could improve voting system usability. It may be too late to fix the problems that will no doubt surface in the current election, but voting system accuracy and usability deserves careful attention in any credible democratic system. In the HFES report, entitled “Human Factors Experts Identify Persistent Problems with U.S. Ballot and Voting System Usability,” five HF/E experts on voting systems respond to questions about ongoing human factors issues, challenges, research, and practice in this area. They conclude that although some progress has been made, much remains to be done to improve ballot and voting machine design and usability—and that HF/E research and application can be brought to bear to get that work done.
Excerpts from the report include:
Sources: The Ergonomics Report; HFES; The Park Record